Chapter 328: Thought TracesAlexandra Erin on August 2, 2016 in Volume 2 Book 10: Lucky Thing, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie Wakes Up
I did not dream, exactly, but neither did I sink completely into oblivion. Maybe what I experienced was what eight hours of sleep, dream cycles and all, compressed into twenty minutes of unconsciousness.
I had the impression of a great struggle, not with anything outside but completely within myself. The closest thing I could equate it to would be the sensation of kicking towards the surface of a deep, dark, cold, and above all, dark lake while trying to keep a hold on something that kept threatening to wriggle out of my grasp. I did not dream this scenario, but when I woke up at the end of the potion’s primary effect duration, I felt as though I had.
Other things that I felt included a mild headache, a dryness in my mouth, nothing at all in my stone-bound leg, and a sick, sudden, sinking certainty that something important had slipped away from me despite all my efforts to contain it.
The first thing I was conscious of outside of myself was the sound of Amaranth half-singing, half-humming to herself. It was a sound I had never heard. Her voice, unsurprisingly, was beautiful, melodious.
In old literature and such, the singing of nymphs was a frequent topic, but I had always sort of assumed that was because such literature was too respectable to mention the things nymphs did that really impressed the writers.
“You should do that more often,” I said groggily.
“Well, you’re welcome to clean every once in awhile if you think the room needs it,” she said.
“I meant the singing,” I said. I fought to sit up without much success. My pinned leg made it harder than it otherwise might have been, but I think I was also still fighting through the wind-down effects of the potion, if only because it didn’t immediately occur to me to cancel the magic.
“Oh!” she said. “I didn’t realize I was? I don’t normally do it, outside of festivals back home. It’s always part of the ceremony… it feels almost blasphemous to do it recreationally, which is why I feel self-conscious about doing it in front of other people.”
“You shouldn’t,” I said. “It’s beautiful. Where’d you learn it? I can’t believe you picked it up from a book.”
“I didn’t learn it all,” she said. “I don’t even have to rehearse! You know how they say practice makes perfect?”
“Yeah, and you were born perfect.”
“Made, but yes,” she said. “In some respects, to certain local values of ‘perfect’. But that includes singing. How are you feeling?”
“Better, I think” I said.
“You said that when you woke up this morning,” she said. “Do you feel good?”
“Let me check,” I said. I undid the elemental binding on my leg, and feeling rushed back… I cried out in sudden shock and pain.
“Oh!” Amaranth said, her face falling as she rushed to my side. “I’m sorry, baby, I thought for sure that would…”
“I’m fine, I’m fine!” I said quickly. “Pins and needles, though!”
That was putting mildly. It was more like swords and spears… the worst case of them I’d ever felt.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s all, you know, in my leg muscles and not my actual kneecap. I just slept weird, with it all stoned up. I’m pretty sure… almost entirely sure… my knee pain was wiped out while I was asleep.”
“Well, you had better take it nice and slow, nonetheless,” she said, climbing into bed and gently rubbing my leg. “It’d be a shame to spend a day in bed and use up a potion only to wind up hurting yourself worse getting out of bed onto a leg that won’t support you.”
“Yeah, I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere,” I said. I leaned back down while Amaranth gently kissed and nibbled up and down my stricken leg. It was an interesting role-reversal… Amaranth was frequently tender with me, but more often it would be me focusing my attention on her legs. I found myself flushing with heat, not quite equal parts arousal and embarrassment, but close. “It’s feeling better already. Did Steff say anything about a headache?”
“No?” Amaranth said, the concern rushing back into her voice. “Do you have one?”
“Yeah, and I’m trying not to read anything into it,” I said. “Even if it’s not a side effect from the potion, it could just be a headache. I mean, there’s no rational reason to think it came from a mental intrusion… that’s never given me a headache before.”
“It probably is just a headache, then,” Amaranth said. She straightened up. “Some people get them when their sleep cycle is weird. I don’t know what a full night’s sleep in the afternoon would do for you, even if it wasn’t highly compressed.”
“Yeah,” I said. The headache, fast fading, didn’t bother me half as much as the nagging feeling of urgency, of something lost in the mists of sleep. “Hey, what were we talking about when I fell asleep?”
“The onset time of the potion?” Amaranth said. “General room cleanliness? I’m honestly not sure, baby… our conversations are kind of organic and free-range, you know? We were talking about lots of things.”
“I think it might have been something important,” I said. “Something… about Shiel?”
“Oh, she owes you an apology,” Amaranth said.
As she said that, I remembered her saying that… I hadn’t exactly forgotten it to begin with. But as much as I agreed with Amaranth, I didn’t actually care that much whether I got one or not.
“Baby, you’d tell me if something were wrong, wouldn’t you?” Amaranth asked.
“I would if I knew it,” I said. “I just… I feel like I figured something out right before I fell asleep, and now I can’t remember what it was.”
“Was it something about your new million gold idea?” Amaranth said. “The reading in bed thing?”
“…that doesn’t sound right,” I said. “I was excited about that… am excited about it… but I feel like something a lot more, you know, life and death. Or maybe not quite that dire, but important.”
“Well, enchanting is important to you,” Amaranth said. “You’ve been so concerned about what you’re going to do after you get your degree. I know you’re not keen on winding up on a line, pouring your energy into TVs or whatever.”
“Yeah, maybe,” I said. It still sounded wrong, but I couldn’t really fault her logic.
“What was your idea, anyway?” she asked.
“Well, you know how it’s hard to find a way to read anything bigger than a paperback when you’re lying down?” I asked.
“Sweet Mother, yes!” Amaranth said. “Most of us don’t have your strength. Do you know how hard it is to hold a textbook up over your head and read?”
“Not really, I guess?” I said. “But I mean, it’s unwieldy no matter who’s holding it. There’s just no comfortable position. So I started thinking about different ways to get around the need to hold it.”
“What, like hovering books? Animated books?”
“That’s where I started. I ended up with something a little more intangible,” I said. I shook my head. I could feel the fierce urgency of my early awakening retreating away from me, and as it did, I became more and more sure that this wasn’t what had slipped away from me. “Amaranth… was I saying something when I went under?”
“If you were, it was too quiet for me to hear?” Amaranth said.
“What was the last thing I said?”
“It was… huh,” Amaranth said. “You know, I think it’s slipped my mind?”
“It was only half an hour ago,” I said.
“Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t remember!” she snapped. “It can’t have been that important… wait. I know that you said something I said was smart. I’m sure of that much. I just don’t remember what, but it couldn’t have been… um…”
She trailed off, biting her lip.
“Amaranth?” I said gently.
“You don’t remember what I said was smart, do you?” I asked.
“…no,” she said. “And that bothers me for some reason.”
“Because there’s no higher compliment, to you,” I said. “You’re really beautiful and… you know, sexy… and stuff, basically perfect, but being smart is what makes you you and not any other nymph.”
“Yeah,” she said. “So, I was so happy that you agreed with me, and that you said that, and I remember being happy about that… and I should remember what it was, but I don’t! And I’m irritated by that, and… and…”
“A little scared,” I said.
“Yes,” she said. She dropped her head. “More than a little.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m still getting used to the idea that I can’t trust all my memories.”
“…do you think something happened while you were asleep?” she asked. “With… whoever… altered your memories?”
I considered that. When my mind had drawn a connection between her reaction to the idea of a recent memory being obliterated or obscured and my own experiences, the thought that they might be related had been there, bobbing at the surface of the back of my mind. But when she said it out loud, it didn’t seem likely.
“No,” I said. “As much as I was afraid that someone or something would move in while I was unconscious and vulnerable, you were wide awake the whole time.”
“And it’s not like anyone else knew you were going to be out like that,” Amaranth said. “I mean, Steff and Coach Callahan, but they didn’t necessarily know when, and it’s not like they’d have been in contact with… anyone.”
“No, you’re right,” I said. “But it does seem like you were manipulated somehow…”
And just like that, it all fell into place, again. Amaranth was right that no one could have predicted my period of vulnerability… but someone, or more particularly something, could have instigated it.
I went back over the fragments of our last conversation. Shiel owed me an apology…
“You said that Shiel was acting out of character,” I said.
“Yes!” Amaranth said. “That’s it! That’s exactly what I said! I want to give her a piece of mind so bad…”
“I think she already has a piece of somebody’s mind,” I said. “Or something has a piece of hers. She came out of the game room at just the right time and in just the right mood to put me out of commission for most of a day. As much as Hazel might have wanted to take her down a peg, getting her fighting mad probably wasn’t part of Hazel’s wish.”
“Baby, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying, I don’t think it’s an accident that I got sidelined,” I said. “Hazel’s wish-curse-thing, whatever it is, wanted me out of the picture long enough for it to do something.”
“Oh!” Amaranth said. “Oh, baby, that’s kind of scary. Are you sure it was only temporary? What if it didn’t know you were invulnerable? A kobold punch to a mortal human could have been a lot worse.”
“I’m pretty sure it wasn’t playing for keeps,” I said. “Remember? We were talking about how lucky it was that Callahan had the right potion to fix me up.”
“Coach Callahan,” Amaranth corrected me, almost automatically.
“And that potion fixed what Shiel did, but it also interrupted my chain of thought just when I was putting it together,” I said.
“I didn’t take the potion or have a power nap,” Amaranth said, her brow furrowing. “So why did I forget?”
“…probably for the same reason Shiel kneecapped me,” I said.
“You mean… I’m under it’s influence?”
“I think everybody is,” I said. “Everybody who it needs to be. There might be some limits to range or to the circumstances under which it can touch a mind, but it obviously doesn’t need line of sight or too much direct proximity to Hazel.”
“Well, if that’s true, why would it need to hurt you or line up the potion?”
“I don’t know, exactly,” I said. “I have my suspicions… I don’t know if it’s because of my demon half, or the fact that I’ve had some training in closing my mind, but there’s obviously some reason it found it easier to move other people around to get to me.”
“When you say it like that…” Amaranth said.
“What?” I said.
“I mean, it almost sounds like…”
She trailed off.
“Like what?” I pressed.
“Like it’s afraid of you.”